American Traditions The Rest of the World Rolls Their Eyes At


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America is the greatest country on earth. At least it is to a lot of people who live here. But do people in the rest of the world agree with that, or do they see America as a place where people bring machine guns to Starbucks and listen to Kid Rock?

It saddens us to say this, but we believe people in other countries embrace the latter view of America. Maybe they’re right, and maybe they’re not, but there’s no disputing the fact that there are some things we do in the United States that are unique to us and that people living outside this nation find off-putting, to put it mildly.

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Black Friday

End of list! The ridiculous tradition of lining up outside of Wal-Mart at four in the morning the day after Thanksgiving is uniquely American in its mixture of unfettered consumerism and indifference to basic safety precautions. Any person residing outside of the United States will be appalled at the footage of people stampeding to get a low-priced 50-inch television set, particularly since this tradition has been marred by deaths and injuries. Do these people know you can just order stuff off the internet?

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Reality TV

While reality television certainly has a presence in other countries, no nation has gone more gaga for it than the United States. We are, after all, the nation responsible for “Toddlers and Tiaras,” “Jersey Shore,” and the horrific “Bridalplasty,” in which soon-to-be-betrothed women compete for the honor of winning plastic surgery in time for their upcoming nuptials. In fairness however, no U.S. Reality show holds a candle to the U.K.’s “Just Tattoo of Us,” in which best friends pick very questionable tattoos for their friends, who don’t see the ink until it’s already etched into their flesh.

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Mountains of Food

America is the land of the heaping helping, and indeed, you’ll have a hard time finding restaurants in this great nation that won’t necessitate having half your entrée wrapped up to take home. In fact, any meal served in Branson, Missouri can easily feed three adults. This phenomenon does not really exist outside of the United States, and as a nation, we show no interest in reversing the trend.

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The 24/7 Work Culture

In some countries when you get off work, you really get off work, and a work email received at one in the morning on a Sunday will not get answered until work hours resume on Monday. Meanwhile, here in the U.S. of A, we’re expected to work in industries that never sleep and be employees that never sleep either. If you’re working in national security or trying to fight cyberterrorism, then there’s a good reason your job will need you to be available at all hours. However, if you’re a McDonald’s fry cook, you should be allowed to log off after eight hours and do what you will.

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Hideously Ugly Patriotic Clothing

You’ve surely seen at least a few people in your life dressed from head to toe in patriotic garb that suggests someone took down their nation’s flag and made hats and t-shirts out of it. It will not surprise you to learn this is a predominantly American phenomenon, and there’s nobody out there doing this with the flag of Iceland, Yemen, or Laos.

Image Credit: man dressed in USA by Marco Verch/ Flickr (CC BY).

Fuel-Inefficient Cars

This one is actually slowing down a bit on U.S. shores, but until pretty recently, you didn’t really own an American car unless it was ridiculously oversized and could be described as a “gas guzzler.” You’re seeing less of these on American roads today thanks to the rise of electric vehicles and growing awareness of climate change, but we still have a way to go before we reach the same fuel efficiency standards that other countries insist upon.

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Children’s Beauty Pageants

Yeah, this one is pretty gross even if you were born and raised in America, drive a Hummer, and listen to Molly Hatchet. Honestly, it’s hard to believe that children’s beauty pageants took off at all, since they’re so jarringly and immediately wrong to almost anyone who beholds one, but take off they did, and people still enter their six-year-olds in these contests. It is likely that people from other countries look at this and believe from that moment on that we have lost our way as a nation.

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This is not a completely American tradition, since many countries have industries in which tipping is customary. Still, we as a nation have maybe not gotten the word out as well as we should have – visitors from other countries are often just not aware that tipping a server, a custodian, or a coat check worker is expected, which can lead to some unpleasant misunderstandings. We Americans should do a better job of making sure everyone gets the memo.

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Overly Friendly Customer Service

When people from other countries are asked to describe Americans, a word you’ll hear over and over again is “friendly,” and it should absolutely be taken as the compliment that it is. However, in customer service contexts, it can feel a bit smarmy and insincere if it’s laid on too thick. So if you’re a Cheesecake Factory employee serving a family of tourists from South Korea, certainly smile at them and be nice, but try not to hug them.

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American Cheese

There’s nothing wrong with American cheese, provided there’s nothing else available and you must put something on your hamburger lest you suffer dire consequences. However, if you come from a country that makes such cheeses as Gruyere, Feta, or Gouda, you may not even agree that American cheese is actually cheese. And wait until you hear about the aerosol spray stuff! Or Velveeta!

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Americans are loud. We talk loud, we play our music loud, and we generally conduct ourselves in a way that makes it impossible for people not to notice us. While other countries have loud people too, those people tend to be that way because they’ve had too much to drink, and they will dial it back the next morning when they’re sober. Conversely, even Americans who have never had a drink in their lives will just start yelling at you, and not because they’re mad. That’s just how they talk. This phenomenon is perhaps most obvious in the New York borough of Brooklyn, where there’s no distinct difference in volume between friends chatting or mortal enemies fighting.

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Gun Stuff

Other countries have inhabitants that like to shoot, so fondness for guns is not a purely American phenomenon. The part that is purely American, however, is that after some kind of mass-casualty event involving firearms, the laws don’t change in response. When such an event transpires here in the U.S., talk to your friends who hail from other countries – they’re baffled that we can’t seem to figure this one out.

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Our Fantastic Healthcare System

The complexity of the American healthcare system – to say nothing of the cost – is similarly baffling to your foreign friends who hail from countries with universal healthcare. You’re simply not going to hear about anyone from England (for example) having to declare bankruptcy to clear their medical bills, a much-too-common outcome for Americans who have sought medical care.

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The Electoral College

Also baffling to your foreign friends is the electoral college, a system by which candidate A can win more votes than candidate B, but candidate B is crowned the winner. Despite its faults, It’s a slightly better system than the one currently in place in Russia, in which candidate A wins 100% of the vote and candidate B “accidentally” falls out of a window. 

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